Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Most Humane Ray Bradbury

I just ran across a fine essay (with a less than fine title) about Ray Bradbury in The American Conservative.  Daniel J. Flynn understands some of the key humane themes in Bradbury's fiction.  Flynn, notes regarding Martian Chronicles that Bradbury’s retro heaven meshes with his skepticism of progress, science, and technology. His life exhibits throwback tendencies; his fiction, all the more.
My favorite Flynn observation is what actually caused me to love the writings of Bradbury.  "Ray Bradbury loves human beings, and his hatred of the digital devices that divide us from us stems from their dehumanizing influence."
Over the past few years people have asked me regarding my research of Bradbury, "is he anti-technology"?  The short answer is "no."  Bradbury, unlike most others, realizes that our human technologies act back upon us in unintended ways.  Again, Flynn states, "Bradbury’s vision of the future germinated from what he saw in the postwar present: gadgeted distractions, screens separating humans from humans, televisions raising children, the vicarious life replacing life itself, leisure time becoming a waste of time. He sensed in which direction the world spun, and he didn’t want to go there. Alas, from Fahrenheit 451’s televised helicopter fugitive chase to the television-as-babysitter of “The Veldt” (1950), we live in the real world that his fiction had warned us about."
One point where I both agree and disagree with Flynn is regarding Fahrenheit 451.  "The obvious reading of Fahrenheit 451 reveals a story about censorship...But the more subtle and important theme involves passive entertainment displacing the life of the mind. It is less about right-left than about smart-stupid."  I believe that the more obvious reading of Fahrenheit 451 is about the death of the American mind and soul and the more obvious mis-reading is that the work is about censorship.  It seems the mis-reading, may actually prove the thesis that the American mind and soul was buried sometime ago, but the zombies have not gotten the email.
I would add, that if one desires to move beyond the popular biographical version (with some inaccuracies) on the life of Ray Bradbury, the definitive biography is currently being written by Dr. Jonathan Eller. Eller's Becoming Ray Bradbury provides a depth and texture that popular biographies lack. Additionally, Drs. Eller and Toupounce are assembling a multi-volume, critical edition, chronological compilation of Bradbury's stories with the first volume already published.